A Denver Home Companion | air travel with a little one

we’re going to see these big kids next week for christmas in minneapolis! and we’re taking a plane to get there. pray for me…

travel by plane with ramona as a newborn was a cinch. EASY! piece of cake. seriously. she was either asleep or nursing or just sitting there looking really cute. there was this one time that she had a blow-out but there’s little anyone can do to prepare for that besides make sure you have extra diapers and clothes and no qualms about changing the baby in the back open area by the flight attendants (sorry, y’all, but that changing table in the front bathroom does not cut it for me. where the hell am i supposed to place anything?! it’s like changing a baby on top of a board placed over a porta-potty stinky hole. no. thank. you.).

now that ramona has gotten a little older and more mobile and sassy and squirmy and opinionated and does not sleep wherever whenever, well, things have changed. lucky for me or sucky for me, i’ve traveled a decent bit this past year and a half with ramona so have had some trips to work out the kinks. here’s my unsolicited advice on air travel with a little one.

  • travel when the majority of your traveling companions are in a good mood. i’ve tried to do the nap-time flight but ramona will no longer fall asleep just anywhere. even if it was her nap time, she’s far too excited and curious that there is no way she would take a snooze on me. i’d rather have a happy baby that might get a little fussy bc they can’t move around as much as they’d like than a sleepy, crabby baby who is going to react more emotionally. so, ideally, we travel any time in the first part of the day that does not require us to wake up before we usually do. afternoon wise, i try and choose a flight that will get us in just before her bedtime.
  • pack light. no, your kid does not need all that stuff. some diapers and some wipes, a pacifier, some healthy snacks, a quiet toy. stop lugging that diaper bag around! everything you need for tyke should be able to fit in your own personal bag. also, i don’t use a stroller at the airport. i opt for carrying ramona on my back w our boba. i check in our luggage first thing and wear her through security (i usually carry-on one large shoulder tote). once through security, i let her walk/run/goof around. she gets her wiggles out this way. w just one bag and one baby, i don’t really have a problem being able to chase her around the waiting area. and i don’t have to worry about a stroller i would otherwise have to attend to.
  • sit in the back of the plane. i always fly southwest, where you get the option of choosing your seat (i love this, jp hates it with a fiery passion). i go straight back to the last seat on the right. i do this bc a) i’m close to the bathrooms b) i’m close the the flight attendants (uh, can i have a refill on my jack and diet?) c) i’m close to that open area where the flight attendants’ jump seat is (this area is great for rocking a sleepy child or changing diapers) d) it’s louder so it can drown out noises ramona makes a little more e) it fills up last which means, no joke, only ONCE in 18 months have i ever had to share the full row. most times, i have an empty middle seat next to me. and many times i’ve been lucky enough to have the whole row to spread out. 
  • demonstrate and expect good behavior (when they’re not freaking out). choose toys that don’t make much noises (at least not the battery kind). i’ve found that pretzels in a plastic cup with a lid from the flight attendant is her favorite plane toy yet and the rattling is innocuous. she spends her time sticking her finger in the straw hole or trying to pry off the top or just sitting there snacking on the pretzels. otherwise, we read the literature in the seat pocket or putz on my phone. if your child is doing something that is directly affecting another traveler (like kicking or pulling the seat in front of them) redirect immediately! be aware of what your child is doing and how it might come across to those around you. and choosing toys and encouraging behaviors that are less intrusive to other people’s flying experience can set an early precedent of being respectful of other people and best practice for shared public spaces. people seem to be understanding when a child is tired and acting out because of that. and they are certainly less understanding when a child is just being obnoxious and the parent is oblivious.
  • that being said, do not care that much about what the people around you might be thinking. i know, you think that sounds awful. but too many mothers worry too much about what people might think or how they might react to their toddler. it almost seems they manifest these poor interactions by assuming that everyone hates kids and no one is going to understand what they, as a parent, are going through, even before they’ve arrived at the airport. so far, for me at least, so good. most people actually seem to want to help me. ask the flight attendant to hold or watch your little one while you go to the bathroom if you’re not traveling with your partner. encourage your child to say hi and smile at those around you. wait and see how your seat companion reacts when your toddler whacks them on the knee with their toy before apologizing profusely (and unnecessarily). most people are not that averse to attention from little humans. in fact, i believe that most people secretly crave it. be confident in your parenting skills. trust me, you will know when you should be buying the people in front of you a round of drinks to compensate for your child’s behavior. until then, relax. and if, by chance, you do sit by someone that is making it obvious they hate kids, especially yours, don’t take it personally. chances are this person finds little to not hate in their life. 
  • whatever’s gonna happen is gonna happen. most of what i have said has to do with preparing yourself for traveling with a little one. that’s bc we know by now as parents that some things are just out of our control no matter how much we plan and prep and anticipate. i think the real trick in traveling with a little one is making sure you’ve got confidence and determination in what you’re doing, a sense of humor in the unexpected, and graciousness and humility and a smile for those around you. no, it’s not as simple as that but it sure can’t hurt.

(yes, i know: joanna –who resides on every single blogger’s blog roll and for good reason) totally scooped me on this subject by a day. i think her tips are great and will be using some of them for our upcoming flight.



  1. kimmy says:

    Emily! Don’t you go giving away the Southwest secrets!

  2. wanderlynn says:

    All great advice! It sounds like you’re well-prepped for a successful flight. After flying solo-with-toddler across the Atlantic, I can promise you that no matter what, you’ll eventually get there!

  3. Alli says:

    Your list totally compliments Joanna’s. I’ve been wondering how we’ll fair with a squirmy toddler next time we fly so your tips are going to come in handy, thanks x

  4. Cora says:

    Great post, Emily! I have also traveled a ton with Miles and in most cases it is without hubby so it’s even harder but I sort of feel like I have it on lock down now. The last time we flew was to my sister’s home in Las Vegas a few months ago and that was ROUGH. it was a night flight which we have never done before and he was such a crazy, unhappy baby that I lost all faith in flying. On the way back home he was a complete angel and slept the whole way. Its so hit or miss. I do a lot of what is on your checklist though. The sitting in the back of the plane is my jam! I swear by it! Next month we are heading down to my hometown in San Diego and thankfully Steve is joining us. I’m curious how M will be now that he’s older and is more amused by toys and food. I will definitely will be referencing back to your post to help me brush up on the upcoming flight!

  5. […] their BobaAir, a lighter, more compact version of the boba carrier. this was perfect timing as our air travels to minnesota for thanksgiving would be the perfect time to try it […]

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